A Dirty Job: How to Handle Employee Terminations

One of the more unpleasant responsibilities of managers and HR personnel is to terminate employees. While this is never an enjoyable task, it is important that it be done with forethought and planning in order to protect the security of the facility and company.


  • Prepare a checklist:Create a list of everything that must be addressed, such as IT security, facility security, benefits, company property and data, non-compete agreements, and final pay. Having a standard checklist prepared ensures that nothing will get missed, and makes a potentially emotional process more routine.
  • Choose the right time: It’s better to terminate an employee late in the day and early to mid-week. A Friday termination means that the employee has two days in which they cannot do much more than worry and get angry.

    An early to mid-week termination gives the employee time to take positive actions, such as filing for unemployment, signing up with a staffing company to find employment, and applying for jobs in the newspaper or online postings.

    A late afternoon termination allows the employee to leave the building during the time of day when other employees are leaving, making the departure more natural.

  • Prepare a final paycheck:Washington does not require an employee to be given their final paycheck at the time they are terminated, but rather during the regular pay period. However, paying the employee all wages due them during the termination meeting reduces one point of contention and eliminates a reason for future contact with the company.

    If your company has a policy to pay employees for accumulated vacation and/or sick leave, be sure to include that pay with the final paycheck.

    Never hold back pay due an employee, even if they are let go for good cause. It is a small price to pay to avoid conflict and legal wrangling.


  • Have a game plan:Decide beforehand how you will end the meeting, perhaps by standing to signal that it is done.
  • Use a proper location: Hold the meeting in a neutral location (for example, a conference room) that allows you to stand up to leave without the employee hanging back in your office.
  • Keep it short:The meeting itself should be short. The purpose is to inform the employee of your decision. Make it clear as soon as possible that the purpose of the meeting is to terminate the employee. It is not a time for discussion, as the decision has been made.
  • Remain emotionally reserved:Do not apologize and don’t become emotional. Be prepared for a variety of reactions, from tears, to argument, to confusion. Prepare yourself well and don’t deviate from what you’re planning to say.
  • Have info prepared:During the termination meeting, be prepared to give the employee information on the status of their company benefits. Providing this information is often a neutral way to transition the meeting to a close.

    The information should also be provided in writing and should cover medical benefits and COBRA if applicable, retirement or IRA benefits, flexible spending plan, life insurance, or educational reimbursement.

  • Review documents: If the employee has signed any agreements with the company, such as a non-compete agreement or a confidentiality agreement, it’s a good idea to review those documents with the employee and to provide a copy during the meeting to take with them.
  • Retrieve company property:The employee’s file should contain a record of company property in the employee’s possession. All of this should be retrieved before the employee leaves the building. Such items might include a building key, ID badge, cell phone, laptop, uniform, safety equipment or credit card.
  • Discuss reimbursements: During the termination meeting ask the employee if they have any unpaid expenses, and have them complete an expense form for reimbursement as soon as possible.


  • Information security:Immediately upon termination, the employee’s access to the company’s computers, network, email and security system needs to be eliminated. In a small business, this often requires making prior arrangements with an offsite tech support or network manager.

    It is never a good idea to allow a terminated employee to return to their computer or have access to company data or files.

  • Vacating the premises:Allow the employee to gather their personal belongings from their workspace. You should have someone observe this process, but it is important that this is done in a respectful and helpful manner.

    If safety is a concern but you do not have onsite security, have another person in the room, or alert someone to your safety concerns and have them positioned close by.

  • Address staff concerns:Remember that your entire office is impacted by the termination. Other employees may feel relief, anxiety, anger, confusion, or a variety of other emotions.

    It is your job to set a tone of confidence and respect, and to reassure the staff that the company is continuing to move forward and function at a high level.

    Your employees will want to know that their own jobs are safe, that the company is fine, and that the business will continue to do well. Your attitude will make all the difference.

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